2,000-year-old ossuary authentic, say researchers

Stone chest was used for secondary bones burial, belonged to daughter of Caiaphas high priests, from Second Temple period.

June 29, 2011 22:50
2 minute read.
2,000 year old ossuary

2,000 year old ossuary_311. (photo credit: Antiquities Authority)


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Researchers from Bar-Ilan and Tel Aviv universities published a study this week confirming the authenticity of a recently obtained ancient ossuary with unique historical implications that was plundered by antiquities robbers.

The 2,000-year-old ossuary, a stone chest used for secondary burial of bones, belonged to a daughter of the Caiaphas family of high priests.

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The front of the ossuary bears an Aramaic inscription from the time of the Second Temple saying “Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas, Priests of Ma’aziah from Beth Imri.”

The high priest Yehosef Bar Caiaphas is known for his involvement in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, but the prime importance of the inscription is the discovery that the Caiaphas family was related to the Ma’aziah priestly course, one of the 24 divisions of Kohens that took turns maintaining the schedule of offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem.

This is the first reference to the Ma’aziah course in an epigraphic find from the Second Temple period, which was the last of the twenty-four priestly courses that served in the First Temple.

The list of courses was formulated during King David’s reign and appears in the Bible in I Chronicles 24:18.

The ossuary was discovered by antiquities robbers who looted a Jewish tomb of the Second Temple period.

Three years ago, it was acquired by the Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.

Since the ossuary was not found in a controlled, archeological excavation, and due to its extraordinary historical significance, the authenticity of the artifact was tested by Dr. Boaz Zissu of the Department of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and Prof. Yuval Goren of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University.

The examinations determined that the ossuary and its inscription are genuine and ancient, and came from a burial cave in the area of the Valley of Elah, in the Shephela.

This week the research was published in the Israel Exploration Journal, Volume 61, confirming its authenticity and summarizing the importance of the find.

The Antiquities Authority has expressed distress that this important find, stolen from its original provenance, was removed from its exact archeological context, so it is not possible to know the full story of the burial cave.

The ending of the inscription “from Beth Imri” can be interpreted to mean that Beth Imri is the name of a priestly family – the sons of Immer as described in Ezra 2:36-37 and Nehemiah 7:39-42, whose descendants include members of the Ma’aziah course.

The second possibility is that it refers to the place of origin of the deceased or of her entire family, which may have been preserved in the name Beit Ummar, a village in the North Hebron Hills.

In that village and in nearby Khirbet Kufin, remains of a Jewish settlement were identified from the Second Temple era and the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

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